Dealing with Narcissists in Business: A Guide for Sanity Retention

December 21, 2023

Business relationships can be challenging, especially when it involves interacting with individuals displaying narcissistic traits. Recognizing and effectively managing these relationships is crucial for maintaining a healthy work environment and ensuring professional success.

I’ve dealt with many over my years in business and as dynamic and exciting as they can appear to be, I recommend you avoid them unless you know what you are getting in for, accept the huge risks along with the rewards and keep an exit strategy on hand in case you need to make a quick ‘exit stage right’.

I. Understanding Narcissism in a Business Context

A. Characteristics of Narcissism

Narcissism in the business world often manifests through a range of behaviours and attitudes:

  • Grandiosity: This includes a sense of entitlement and a belief in one's superiority.
  • Attention-Seeking: A constant need for admiration and validation from others.
  • Manipulative Behaviour: Using others for personal gain without regard for their well-being.
  • Lack of Empathy: An inability or unwillingness to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
  • Sensitivity to Criticism: A disproportionate reaction to criticism, real or perceived.

B. The Impact on Business Relationships

Interactions with narcissists in a business setting can lead to various challenges, such as:

  • Communication Breakdowns: Difficulty in having open and honest conversations.
  • Decreased Morale: The narcissist’s behaviour can impact the overall morale of the team.
  • Conflict and Tension: Increased likelihood of conflicts and strained relationships.
  • Inefficiency and Delays: Their need for control and perfection can lead to delays and inefficiencies.

II. Strategies for Effectively Dealing with Narcissists

A. Establishing Boundaries

Clear boundaries are essential. It’s important to delineate what is acceptable and what isn’t in professional interactions and to consistently maintain these boundaries.

B. Communication Techniques

  • Avoid Direct Confrontation: Direct confrontation can escalate tensions. Opt for a more diplomatic approach.
  • Focus on Facts: Base discussions on factual information rather than emotional responses.
  • Active Listening: Show that you are listening and understanding their points, which can sometimes help in placating their need for attention.

C. Managing Expectations

Be realistic about the outcomes of interactions with a narcissist. Understanding their limitations can help in setting achievable goals in your interactions with them.

D. Self-Protection

  • Don’t Take It Personally: Their behaviour is a reflection of their own issues, not yours.
  • Document Interactions: Keeping a record of communications can be invaluable, especially in contentious situations.
  • Seek Support: Don’t hesitate to reach out for help from colleagues, HR, or professional counsellors.

E. Utilising Positive Reinforcement

  • Use Praise Wisely: Appropriate compliments can be effective but be cautious of over-flattery.
  • Highlight Mutual Benefits: Emphasise how working together effectively can benefit both parties.

F. Professionalism

Maintain professionalism in all interactions. This sets the tone for your relationship and protects your professional reputation.

III. Empathy and Understanding

While it’s challenging to empathise with a narcissist, understanding their perspective can sometimes provide insights into their behaviour. Many narcissists act from a place of deep-seated insecurity and fear, and this understanding can sometimes guide a more effective approach in dealing with them.

IV. Knowing When to Step Back

Recognize when a relationship with a narcissist is becoming too detrimental to your well-being or professional standing. In such cases, it might be necessary to distance yourself or sever ties, if necessary with the support and guidance of HR professionals or legal counsel, if that is the type of business connection you have. If more client vendor in a consulting relationship, do an about-face quick-march and never look back.

V. Takeaways

Dealing with narcissists in business requires a strategic approach, balancing assertiveness with empathy. It involves setting clear boundaries, employing effective communication strategies, and maintaining professionalism. By understanding the nature of narcissism and employing these strategies, you can navigate these challenging relationships more effectively, while protecting your own well-being and professional interests.

VI. Final Thoughts

Interacting with narcissists in a professional setting can be a valuable learning experience, offering insights into human behaviour and enhancing your skills in communication and conflict resolution. While challenging, these interactions can contribute to your personal growth and professional development, preparing you for a wide range of future interactions in the complex world of business.


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Paul J Lange

Paul J. Lange

Executive & Business Coach | Food & Hospitality Industry | Entrepreneur & Investor | Unreasonable Unorthodox | Helping business to grow & scale for 35+ years. Creator of the Total QX Framework for Business Optimisation

Paul Lange is an internationally experienced management consultant, business trainer, and exceptional business coach, with over 35 years in the Private Equity/Venture Capital Industry. Known for his unorthodox yet highly effective methods, Paul stands out in a field where innovation and results are paramount.

Paul’s journey in the world of business is deeply rooted in the hospitality sector, where his career began. From his first two jobs in the industry to establishing his inaugural business venture, Paul’s foundational experiences in hospitality have profoundly shaped his understanding of service excellence and workforce dynamics. His continuous connection to the food/hospitality and other industries, through investments, coaching, and international consulting, coupled with his role in developing innovative staff training programs, underscores his comprehensive expertise in this vibrant field.

Paul has a passion for business optimisation and has developed the Total QX (Total Quality Experience) framework, which emphasises the human aspect in business excellence. His approach blends the pursuit of pleasure, passion, and purpose with profit generation, a philosophy he embodies as the Hedonist Entrepreneur.

Paul’s professional journey is marked by his deep commitment to creating transformative business strategies. His Total QX framework, emphasising quality and experience, is at the forefront of his consulting approach. This framework is more than a business model; it’s a reflection of Paul’s belief in integrating pleasure and passion into the fabric of business, thereby enhancing both personal fulfilment and corporate success. If you’re seeking to elevate your business with innovative strategies and a human-centric approach, Paul’s expertise offers an unparalleled opportunity. He welcomes conversations with like-minded professionals and businesses aspiring to blend profitability with purpose and passion.
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